How to Play the Guitar for Beginners

Reading Time: 4 minutes

young woman playing guitar

Photo by Matthew Kane


This week’s guest post is from Marc-Andre Seguin of JazzGuitarLessons.net, in which he breaks down the basic of learning guitar in plain, easy-to-follow language. For beginning students, this is a great guide to help you practice and/or discuss with your teacher. And for teachers, you can use this article to help structure your first lesson, or break down some of the major elements of guitar playing. Enjoy!


At first, guitar playing most certainly feels difficult and confusing. Knowing which string to pluck and fretting notes at the same time with your other hand seems like the most difficult thing in the world. With a bit of practice and some good fundamentals, it is actually not all that difficult. Here, we will be discussing some of the basics and how to best approach practicing them. We will go over things such as the parts of the guitar, posture, technique, and a few basic melodies and chords to get you started.

Parts of the Guitar


1. Headstock – Houses the tuning pegs

2. Tuning Pegs – Tighten or loosen the strings to tune them

3. Nut – Supports the top end of the strings

4. Neck + Fretboard – Frets separate the notes, neck is the base for the fretboard

5. Strings

6. Soundhole – Most electric guitars don’t have these, but on acoustic guitars, they are used to amplify the sound

7. Body – Houses bridge / soundhole and is mostly responsible for creating tone/sound

8. Bridge – Supports the back end of the strings

Also, very quickly, the names of the strings from top to bottom – that is, thinnest to thickest.

E – 1st

B – 2nd

G – 3rd

D – 4th

A – 5th

E – 6th

Posture

Remember how your teachers in school always told you to sit up? Well, I’m going to do the same! Sitting correctly means sitting with your back up straight. This helps to prevent awkward arm positioning and unnecessary straining. When you are slouching, your arms do not extend to the instrument the way it was designed to be. With regard to which lap you should use to rest the body of your guitar, that depends on your training. Many classical – and some jazz – players will rest the guitar on the lap corresponding to the fretting hand. This does lend itself to better form and easier fretting, but I always preferred having it on the other lap.

Technique

For technique, I will be discussing this using a pick. Fingerstyle technique is great but it is not my strength. I prefer holding the pick between my index finger and thumb, although I have seen several players hold it between their thumb and middle finger, I do not find that this is particularly comfortable. When using the pick, it is important to hold the pick flat against the string. Otherwise, you can get a bit of a slicing sound. To give you another perspective, however, sometimes this slicing is desired for certain kinds of technique. Some players do not want the picking to be as “pronounced”, and lightly slicing the string can soften that attack.

One great and simple exercise for any beginner is to simply pick up and down 8 times, then move to the next string. Do this until you have done it on all 6 strings. This kind of picking is called “alternate” picking as you are alternating between up and down.

With your fretting hand, it is good practice to hold the neck as if you were holding a tennis ball. This will ensure that you use the tips of your fingers to fret and also avoid palming the neck. Make sure you avoid bending the tips of your fingers when fretting individual notes. Bending this joint is only a technique you will use when barring chords. These considerations make it so that your hand is straining as little as possible.

Melodies

Now, let’s add a simple little melody to get you started, but first, we must discuss how to read tablature. This is actually very simple, and you will likely use it for as long as you decide to play guitar!

Basically, all you are doing is thinking of it as if the guitar is laying down in front of you with the headstock to the left. Each line is one of your 6 strings and each number is the fret that is being played on that string.

For example:

E________________________

B____________8___________

G________7_______________

D_____5__________________

A________________________

E________________________

Here, you will play the 5th fret on the D string, the 7th fret on the G string, and the 8th fret on the B string. Make sense?

The main drawback with this system of writing is that you it fails to account for rhythm. Therefore, you are left with having to hear the actual recording and figure out how it goes rhythmically, using the tablature as a reference.

Let’s go ahead and go over a simple little melody. Here, we will be using the song, “Twinkle Twinkle”, since it is something everyone knows. The most important thing here is taking it slowly and using good technique as we discussed earlier. I would also recommend using a metronome and going VERY slowly. Set it to about 50 or 60 BPM. If you do not have access to one, you can download any of the free apps or use one of the free websites available.

E_______0_0_2_2_0_____________________

B_____________________3_3_2_2_0_0_____

G__2_2____________________________2___

D_____________________________________

A_____________________________________

E_____________________________________

…and if you are feeling brave, here is the second half of that!

E__0_0_______________0_0______________

B______3_3_2_2_0_________3_3_2_2_0____

G_____________________________________

D_____________________________________

A_____________________________________

E_____________________________________

Then, you would simply repeat the first part one more time.

Not so bad, right?

Chords

Next, we will go over a few very basic chords. These shapes are very basic and very easy to grab. We will use tablature as in the previous example so as to avoid the confusion of also having to learn to read chord charts in the same lesson.

E______0____________0_________________

B______0____________1_________________

G______0____________2_________________

D______2____________2_________________

A______2____________0_________________

E______0______________________________

The first chord here is E minor and the second one is A minor. The most important thing in the beginning is to try to make sure you are getting a good sound out of each note in the chord. Keeping the same posture and technique considerations in mind, grab each chord as you play each string individually to see if any note is muffled. If it is, try to see which of the guidelines you are breaking. Once you feel comfortable with each shape, try switching between them. If you are feeling confident, set your metronome and strum each one to the click four times then switch back and forth.

I hope you got something out of this lesson. Hopefully, playing guitar seems a little less daunting now!

About the Author

Marc-Andre Seguin is the webmaster, “brains behind” and teacher on JazzGuitarLessons.net, the #1 online resource for learning how to play jazz guitar. He draws from his experience both as a professional jazz guitarist and professional jazz teacher to help thousands of people from all around the world learn the craft of jazz guitar.

← All Posts